Q&A: "Watchmen" composer crafts emotional soundscape
Category: Watchmen/Tales of the Black Freighter News | Posted by: maryp
Article Date: February 6, 2009 | Publication: Reuters/Billboard | Author: Ann Donahue
LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - "Watchmen," the film adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' acclaimed 1986 graphic novel, hits screens March 6. For this tale of all-too-human superheroes, Cold War paranoia and revenge, it was up to composer Tyler Bates to provide the score to accompany director Zack Snyder's vision of the novel's apocalyptic imagery.
Warner Bros. will release both the film's soundtrack and its score February 24. Bates spoke recently with Billboard about Bob Dylan, pirates and men on Mars.
Billboard: This is the third movie you've worked on with Zack Snyder, after "300" and "Dawn of the Dead." What's your working relationship?
Tyler Bates: He's not a micromanager -- he's really good at finding a great chemistry among all the people working on the various facets of the film. There's a collaborative spirit that runs throughout everybody; I'm very close with the rerecording mixers and editorial and sound design people. (The music) is not trying to knock the hell out of the picture. For the most part, Zack is like, "Do what you think is coolest," and we'll take it from there.
Billboard: Is it hard to score a graphic novel-turned-movie? It seems like there's so much emphasis that's going to be placed on the visuals and spectacle.
Bates: Zack has this gorgeous visual landscape, and oftentimes a lot of action that's taking place is under narration. The music has to support both of them. The score is steeped more in a deeper emotional head space. There's definitely a feeling of loneliness -- of bereft feelings for the music. I don't need to quote what's onscreen. It's beautiful, but it's dark.
Billboard: What was your inspiration for the score?
Bates: The one thing that I think people who are interested in Zack's movies should come to know is there's a lot of pulp in there. And "Watchmen" is a distortion of pop culture from the '60s and '70s and '80s, so the music is living within that realm. It's an expression of things that might have been during that time, but they're distorted. It leans definitely more toward the ambient. I am really thrilled to have been able to work with the vocalist Lisa Papineau -- we had a band together many years ago called Pet. It's really beautiful, atmospheric vocal stuff.
Billboard: In "Watchmen," there's a comic within the graphic novel called "Tales of the Black Freighter." How did you differentiate the score for that versus the score for the main narrative?
Bates: "Black Freighter" is being read concurrently through the graphic novel -- it's not as clearly emphasized in the film, but it's a throwback in terms of narrative. It's a tale of pirates, so I wanted to give it its own sound, something related to "Watchmen" but not requote any themes to convolute the "Watchmen" story itself. There are things about it that make it feel a little older, and Gerard Butler narrates the entire thing, so basically a lot of the colors I chose were something that I hoped would complement his performance.
Billboard: On the soundtrack, My Chemical Romance covers Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row," a song that's referred to in the graphic novel.
Bates: They came to a scoring session and I think they were charged up by it a bit. (As for the choice of Dylan), Zack respects the original material. For him it's a bible. And he's a huge fan -- it's not like someone said, "Hey, Zack, have you ever heard of 'Watchmen'?" He's been thinking about this for 20 years.
Billboard: What are you working on next?
Bates: I'm back to some debauched terror with Rob Zombie on his next "Halloween" installment. He doesn't begin principal photography until next month, but I'm doing some early stuff for him because he likes to film with some of the music in hand -- it helps communicate to the actors what kind of movie we're making. When they hear the rawness and the brutality of it, it will give them a good idea that he means business. What he's written for this movie is really bizarre. I'm wrapping my head around it now and I've already got regular scheduled appointments with a therapist to deal with it. (Laughs)